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Chinese director calls Weinstein 'a cheater'

Mogul bashed in absentia at Shanghai film fest

SHANGHAI -- Harvey Weinstein drew tough criticism at the Shanghai International Film Festival forum on Sunday from popular Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, who accused him of promising financial backing then backing away.

"Harvey is a cheater in the eyes of many Chinese moviemakers," said Feng, whose credits in the region include "Dream Factory" and "If You Are the One." The director, whose films are not as well known in the West, did not offer any specific charges.

Weinstein didn't exactly invite goodwill at the discussion by making a brief appearance there himself, only to leave abruptly, shake Feng's hand and excuse himself to catch a plane.

"Let me talk about Harvey, now that he's gone," Feng teased the crowd of a few hundred, mostly-Chinese industry observers gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The attack, in absentia, proved lively and finally led to a broader discussion of Sino-Hollywood cooperation, hitting issues from co-production to copyright ownership and distribution.

Later in the day, after hearing of Feng's choice words, an associate close to Weinstein pointed out his track record in Asia, including backing of Zhang Yimou's global blockbuster "Hero" and Chen Kaige's Palme d'Or-winning "Farewell My Concubine."

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, noted Weinstein respected Feng's work enough to have paid $500,000 for the rights to his Hamlet remake, "The Banquet," a domestic boxoffice disappointment. Repackaged as "Curse of the Black Scorpion," Weinstein sold 150,000 DVDs in North America, chalking up the best sales record for any of Feng's films in that territory.

But while still at the forum, Weinstein, in Shanghai to promote his WWII-era thriller "Shanghai," starring Gong Li and John Cusack and set to screen at the festival Sunday night, spoke supportively of his contributions in the region.

"It seems to me that in the last five years Asia and China in particular are on the cutting edge of things," he said. "We intend to buy and make more movies in the area."

Feng said Hollywood executives were interested in buying Chinese films only as a symbol of friendship but without the intention of selling them and thus helping China's film industry grow.

China's newfound economic strength has not yet been accompanied by a global influence in the media, a shortfall many companies are scrambling to correct in the name of profit and under considerable pressure from the government.

Feng didn't restrict his criticism to Weinstein. He dismissed both "Hero" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," by Chinese American director Ang Lee as "Hollywood movies." "They're not Chinese movies," he said, again drawing scattered laughter and applause.

Collaborative efforts, to be sure, "Hero" and "Crouching Tiger" remain two of the highest-grossing Chinese-language films of all time.

On Friday, the Weinstein Co. bought the North American rights to the forthcoming martial arts epic "Reign of Assassins," starring Michelle Yeoh and co-directed by Su Chao-pin and producer John Woo.

Harking back to an earlier success story, Weinstein cited his 2001 repackaging of the 1993 movie "Iron Monkey," by Yuan Woo-ping. In Asia, he said, "there are no rules."